When humans are trapped, cornered, threatened, frightened - falling, smothering, drowning, or find their loved ones in similar peril, they are often capable of Herculean feats - far in excess of their best efforts under normal circumstances.
In times of crisis ordinary men often emerge as great leaders, not necessarily transforming themselves, but reaching deep for their best, to deal with catastrophic events which from time to time threaten our existence.
Lincoln brought us together, saving our nation after the Civil War. Churchill mobilized Europe just in time to keep the Nazis from total victory. Truman succeeded Roosevelt. No president was ever more vilified - considered less ready to lead the free world at war - a bald headed squeaky voiced haberdasher who went broke. However, he selected unusually capable advisors and evidenced a common sense grasp of events and the ability to make hard decisions. 50 years later historians regard Harry S. as one of our greatest presidents. Circumstances made these men by forcing them to perform at much higher than anticipated levels.
The election of "W", or court appointment, as the case may be, to a dyed in the wool, old school Kennedy liberal like myself, seemed to almost guarantee a return to the saber rattling, trickle down, pro gun, anti choice, recessionary don't tax and spend, nasty mean spirited hard right conservatism that was the hallmark of the Reagan/Bush and Bush administrations of the past.
"W", making the most of his name and family contacts, had reached middle age having never held a real job, but with considerable wealth, supplied by the largesse of his Texas baseball oriented cronies. Even those in his own party wondered if he possessed the intellectual acumen to manage our government in peacetime let alone lead the developed world in times of crisis. We all doubted that he knew where Louisiana was located, let alone Afghanistan.
Very little that happened before Sept. 11 did much to alter these perceptions as he and his cold warriors (see earlier column) set out to unilaterally abrogate most of the treaty commitments with our allies.
Everything, tragically, changed when international terrorists attacked our most sacred institutions. "W", the hesitant, inarticulate, deer in the headlights leader who delivered the stem cell decision on national television, was suddenly leading the world against an evil conspiracy dedicated to our destruction.
Since returning to the White House on Sept.12, President Bush has come of age, albeit with considerably more gray hair, but with a steely focus, calm determination, and an unmistakable commitment to prevail. He took the time to build a coalition, but was quick to remind them that they must "DO" more than sympathize. He told the world unequivocally - "You are either with us, or against us." No waffling - kick the grizzly and she will bite!
Rumsfeld, Cheney and Powell represent the best possible wartime consigliores. While Ashcroft (somewhat right of Attila the Hun) definitely requires congressional oversight, I can think of no one better to temporarily sweep the streets of potential suicide bombers, and to put in safeguards that will hopefully be consistent with our constitution, but provide an extra measure of protection for future citizens of our most open and free society.
While all of the divisive social and domestic policy issues still exist, President Bush has virtually eliminated partisanship and rallied all Americans to support his crusade against evil. He warns us that Afghanistan is only the beginning. He treats everyone, including the press, with respect, but no doublespeak, and with less peek-a-boo than any president since Truman.
He is clearly a simple, decent man. Perhaps our world after Sept. 11 needed less intellect, a little bit of cowboy, and some Crawford common sense, to meet this unprecedented challenge to our way of life. When World War II was over Churchill was forced out, never forgiven for having attacked the entrenched aristocracy and spoken the truth.
I never thought I would live long enough to accept, let alone feel so good about, a Republican president. With each day his stature increases, as world leaders come to believe that he sincerely believes in his stated positions. While not immune to compromise, there is only one objective in this war - absolute victory.
It doesn't appear likely that even a significant change in the popularity polls, or unified Arab opposition to our next target, will deter this simple but angry young man. Let's hope and pray he has the strength to stay the course.